Pockets, Public Readings, and Prompts for Poems

By April 21, 2011Writing about Writing

Last Thursday, April 14th, was Poem in Your Pocket Day, and we at the UCWbL got into the act. Poem in Your Pocket Day has been a national occasion since 2008, and both the Lincoln Park and Loop Writing Centers took part in the festivities. Not only were poems available at both offices, but I handed out poems around the DePaul Center in the Loop with Caitlin M., fellow Writing Center tutor. A few of the diverse poets whose work appeared in our packet (for your pocket) were Pablo Neruda, Langston Hughes, Sara Teasdale, and Shel Silverstein. With very few exceptions, the folk I cornered in the various Loop elevators were happy to hear about Poem in Your Pocket Day and receive a free poem.

But that wasn’t the only event of note that week! On Friday, April 15th, the English Graduate Student Association (EGSA) held its second annual conference of student work in McGowan South, followed by a keynote address by DePaul professor, Hannah Pittard. Both academic and creative work were showcased at this event, and I’m only sorry that I didn’t get to hear more. I was honored to read poetry in one of the sessions with Steve Bogdaniec, Trudie Gauerke, and Angel C. Woods. But for me, the best part of reading was the lively discussion that followed. Moderator J. Warren Scheideman was warm and engaging to both poets and audience, asking questions and keeping the discussion moving. Questions varied from those relating to writing processes to ones about changes in book technology and how poetry might be impacted by e-readers. The discussion turned to the use of writing prompts near the end, and the question was asked whether prompts helped or hindered. Did they free or impede? My answer was unequivocal: prompts have freed me to write the poems that might not otherwise have been written. I realize, of course, that not every poet agrees. But don’t give up on prompts just yet! I’m going to share some of my favorites with you.

I am currently taking a writing workshop, The Portrait in Poetry, with Professor David Welch. Over the quarter, students in this course will write either ten self portraits or ten ekphrastic poems (poems that engage or meditate upon a work of visual art, most commonly a painting), and to this end, the class is being given weekly prompts. One of these prompts asked poets to write about an imaginary painting. Just think of the possibilities! Another prompt was to write a self-portrait of someone not yourself. Again: possibilities. Yet another (which I might try for this week) was to write either a self-portrait or ekphrastic poem without repeating any words. I suspect that this won’t be easy. I might be forced to use words in new ways and maybe even learn a  few new words. I hope that the poets out there will try some of these. Also, what are your favorite writing prompts? I hope you’ll share them!

Don’t forget to keep watching this blog for more poetry prompts and more about the English Graduate Student Association Conference!